Sunday, November 23, 2014

Tony Bennett Saves the Day!

Okay, I confess. I was just listening to Christmas carols in the car. I know. I KNOW, okay? It's too early. But you see, I am coming off of this hormonally induced and barely repressed 48 hours of rage. The kind where, from the outside, I look pretty much normal, but inside I am all bubbling anger, just waiting for someone to pop that champagne cork of doom. And when they do....? Imagine a soda can in a paint mixer-- Ka-BOOM! A veritable geyser of obscenities and spittle.

So I am sitting in my car, minding my own business, which mostly involves taking deep, supposedly calming breaths and repeating an appropriate mantra ("homicide leads to prison....homicide leads to prison...") while waiting in line at the car wash. Twenty five minutes later ("homicide leads to prison...") the door finally rises. Hurrah! My turn at last! Except the woman ahead of me is one of those who parks themselves under the air dryer, hoping to extract every last droplet of water from the surface of their vehicle.

Folks. I appreciate that this maybe has some merit in the dead of winter-- you don't want to take the chance of your door or keyhole freezing shut. (Plenty of pieholes I'd like to see frozen shut, though. Sorry. I'm still so very crabby.) but it was 44 degrees. Pardon me for saying so, but come the fuck on! Just move the crappy Corolla already. I swear to god, if I had a smaller deductible on my car insurance, I would just plow through the car wash at forty miles an hour and push them out, Mad Max style.

Ka-boom.

Anyhoo, when I gave an exasperated yell and smacked my head in frustration against the steering wheel, I managed to change channels on my radio. So it wasn't like I went looking for Christmas music. Tony Bennett randomly started crooning "Silver Bells" from the stereo and I just.... left it.

I react to Christmas carols much like Pavlov's dogs responded to bells. Deep, deep in the core of my brain, the opening strains of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" mean something good is going to happen. (Especially if it's the Muppets doing the singing.) I have forty-five years of associating "Feliz Navidad" with good food, yummy smells, fun times with family and presents. Not much can interfere with that wiring. I've been working on those neuro-pathways since I was a baby. Forget deep breathing, four bars of "Oh Holy Night" and I can feel the stress leaking out my toes.

How nice to find out that this is true, even when life hands you some significant changes. We're missing some much loved family members this year, and I wasn't sure I was going to be able to dig up much holiday spirit. But that was before Tony Bennett tapped into the well of conditioned responses in my brain. If we're lucky, life is long and we have so many, many memories to draw upon. We never celebrate just one Christmas. We are marking and remembering and living the expression of all of them--The one when Grandma and Grandpa gave me a pair of pearl earrings. All the years Mom let us eat the entire, foot-long Santa Claus cookie after dinner and I was so full I had to lie on the floor to finish it. The first year with a baby. The year Kirk and his dad set the turkey on fire. The first year without Grandpa. Without Grandma.

Every year adds another memory to the day, another ornament to the tree. This is the first year Miss Teen Wonder must travel home for the holidays, as a college student and arguably an adult. Her siblings will follow, one after the other. With any luck, someday there will be grandbabies. (Do you hear me, children? LOTS of grandbabies.) Each holiday will be different than the last, with a rotating cast of loves gained and lost, different circumstances, different trees....

And I will celebrate them all. Because even though I am with my almost-grown children this year, they magically remain every age they ever were. They are still the same footie-pajama wearing children, struggling against sleep, straining to hear footsteps on the roof. And more miraculously, so am I...Even if I seem to be nothing more remarkable than a middle-aged woman singing along to the radio in a car wash.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Happy Anniversary from a Lucky Lady.

As of today, I have been married 19 years. It seems like a deal. Especially if you add the word "happily" in there, which is after all, the goal, right? "I have been happily married for 19 years." Wow.

I have never once, in all honestly, regretted it. No buyer's remorse. That's  amaaaaazing.  I've regretted every decision I've ever made. I regret spending money on shoes and sweaters that I never wear. I regret bringing home the one cat that was impervious to all attempts at litter box training. I regret not taking shop class in high school, despite my dad's vehement attempts to make me, because, oh my god, the money I could have saved on this slangy shanty of a house. I don't even want to talk about the white carpeting.

But marrying Kirk....? Best decision ever.

I hope he feels same, though there is daily evidence that he could have, in fact, done better. I've grown crankier and ever chubbier with the years, which he interprets as "funnier" and "more voluptuous." A more responsible spouse would have him checked for dementia, but I know when I've got it good.

It's lucky for me that he is so attracted to my inner beauty, because, let's face it, the outer beauty is fading fast. Which I am fine with...mostly. I staunchly hold the belief that women are allowed to get old, goddammit. If you have any sort of problem with grey hair, saggy bellies or crows feet, just keep it to yourself or I will be forced to lecture you mightily on the inherent value of women while shaking my fist in the air.

Metaphorically, I mean. I gave up raising my arms above my head on my last birthday. Crows feet are one thing, but my "angel wings" (as we call the general underarm area) aren't anything I feel like inflicting upon the unsuspecting. I will not even wave hello anymore. If I see you across a crowded room, you are getting a jaunty sailor salute or maybe two thumbs up, elbows held firmly at my side. Which is just the kind of thing Kirk doesn't worry about at all, thank God.

So here's to the next 19. If I am extraordinarily lucky, we will be just as contented then, as we are now. And if we are, I'm throwing one heck of a party. You're all invited-- just stop by and say, "Hello."

SAY it to my face, I mean. Because it's my party and I won't be waving back to anyone.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Luckily, I have a PhD in Awesome.

Because I am officially having a mid-life crisis I went on-line to print out a copy of my college transcripts in an attempt to cobble some sort of workable degree out of that mess. Given the terrible and unrelenting march of time, I was unable to access them easily and had to call University Tech Support for backup.

"Well, let's just see what the problem is," said a nice man on the other side of the phone who, thankfully did not sound twelve-years-old, or whatever age college students are nowadays, "What was your computer password when you were a student?"

I snorted into the phone, quickly recovered and informed him that when I went to college I, in fact, brought along an electric typewriter so....computer password? Not so much.

Thankfully, we got it all smoothed out and with my new password was able to print off page after page of my collegiate history.

"Holy smokes," Hubby said disbelievingly, "I always assumed that you were joking when you talked about how many credits you had!"

Here's the thing, I was in college on and off for eight years. I was excellent at college. Excellent. What I was terrible at was graduating.

"You took Chorus for three terms?  Technical Theater? Ballroom dance?! PIANO?!"

"They were electives!" I huffed, defending myself.

"Should we count up your electives?"

I put my head on the table. "No."

So, electives I got. What I don't have is any math or science. Utilizing my blinding charm, I managed to bluff my way into upper-level Women's Studies and Lit classes (which are NOT required for graduation) despite having never taken the pre-requisites (which totally are.) I took enough art classes to fulfill the requirements for a Studio Arts degree and then withdrew from my senior project THREE TIMES. Out of a total of 200+ credits, I managed a two year Sign Language Interpreting degree and I don't even DO that, anymore.

I paid those student loans off for YEARS. I think we finally got rid of them when we refinanced the house, so in reality, I'm still paying them off...dumb....dumb...dumb....

My only solace is that this is not a mistake Miss Teen Wonder will be able to make. If you tried to do some bone-headed move like that now, you would never get away with it. Right around your third year, when you logged into the registration website and chose Glass-blowing, The History of Cinema and Personalities in Pop Culture (all classes I would have taken, if given the chance) alarms would go off, metal security doors would automatically lock and you would NOT be allowed to leave the room until you signed up for your upper level Statistics and Science with a Lab.

I am so depressed.

I was hoping that I had three, maybe four classes left to fill in the gaps and I could skip out, degree in hand. Now it's looking like I'd have two or more solid years of full time classes to take-- the terrible, boring classes I always avoided. Karma is just kicking my butt, here.

On the upside, my electives are finished.

Hubby doesn't think I should do this, anyways. He thinks I should just "be" a writer. You know, like you do. (Waves hand breezily.)

He is completely ignoring the fact that I already have an ideal system in place for my writing: I write things, read them to Hubby and then toss them into a pile at the side of my bed. Perfect. Maybe I'll be that like that woman who, after she died, they found thousands of brilliant photographs in her apartment. Or, more likely, my kids will just scoop the papers up and drop them, unread, into a dumpster.

Sounds perfectly fine to me. Frankly, it's much easier to face rejection when you're deceased. And even better, you NEVER have to take Intro to Biology...with or without a lab.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A letter to my daughter as she packs for college.


Little girl, I have good news and bad news.
Bad news: I will never do your laundry again. Not even if you move back home between semesters. Not even if you break both your arms. Now that you are an adult it is time you knew, there is no laundry fairy. It is me. It has always been me and you need to understand that beneath this 44-year-old chest beats the heart of a young person who hates doing laundry just as much as you do, now.
And speaking of clothes, I will also not be purchasing underwear for you. Never again since you started buying those fantastical, lacy little bits of nothing which would give your dad a heart attack if he ever did laundry. Which he does not. That's good news for you, but not so great for me.
On a brighter note, I will try, oh so very hard, to keep this stubby little nose out of things that are not my business. Once you leave my house, I will add you to my own, personal "framily" plan; if I wouldn't say it to a friend, I won't say it to you, my family. So if you come home and proceed to drink 1.5 litters of Pepsi 15 minutes before bedtime... well, mums the word. Dad agrees. Just know you are KILLING us, silently, in our hearts, with your disregard for your health. And if I sigh, dramatically, and lay prone on the couch, a pillow over my eyes so I do not have to witness you give yourself diabetes, remember that you are our eldest and we are unskilled at having adult children, thus prone to both mistakes and hysterics.
Other good news; feel free to leave your clothes everywhere, all the time. It is your roommate's problem, not mine. Punch away on your phone all you want. It is not my business if you burn through texts like popcorn at the movies and give yourself astigmatism staring at that tiny screen all day and night. 
Bad news; you'll be needing to find your own phone plan.
But the best news, the very best news, is now that I don't have to concern myself with any of it- with your laundry, your tidiness, your grades, or whether you made it to school on time- I get to just enjoy you without having to teach you a blessed thing. And that is wonderful news for me. Because you are funny and thoughtful and energetic and smart. You are wonderful company and I am looking forward to having such a stellar woman in my life. Just my rotten luck that you have to go and move out of state to make it happen.
And that is the worst news of all.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Severely Abbreviated Photo Diary of the Great American Roadtrip.

Twelve suitcases,
and still not enough underwear...
Driftwood lean-to.
Better than a fancy pants beach sculpture, anyday.
 
Still smiling.
(But its only day three.)

We snagged the good seats on the ferry.

Beautiful.


Even better. 
Swim, swim, swim!

Saw this face more and more
as the trip wore on.

The magnificence of Niagara Falls!
At this point, we're all so tired, no one cares.

Holy Hannah, we made it to New York state!

Same to you, goat.
Evil Rooster.


Cousins!

So, twelve people walk into an ice cream store....





Saturday, August 9, 2014

Days 1-4; The Agony and the Ecstasy.

Day One: 

Day one is officially a success! We headed north, to Duluth, to pick up my sister and her husband before spending a day basking in the sun on one of our much loved Lake Superior beaches. Each of the Northern Wisconsin beaches we frequent has it's own character and quirks. Port Wing has an exceptionally large quantity of driftwood. Inspired by the bounty, folks have dotted the landscape with driftwood sculptures and tepees. Following their example, my eldest son and his Uncle constructed a simple, but effective lean-to; not terribly elaborate, but perfectly positioned to provide a bit of late afternoon shade. 

Meanwhile, not 100 feet from our happy-go-lucky group, an intensely focused father directed his children and wife in the creation of a twenty-foot long loch-ness monster, it's serpentine length rising from the sand.

"Overachiever," I sniffed.

"Those poor kids," sympathized my sister. We are both stalwartly against any beach activity that smacks of organized effort. (Except for picnics. Good picnics don't just happen, you know. Nothing is worse than a dry peanut butter sandwich, gritty from errant sand, which is, incidentally, what my family will be choking down in a few, short days.)

We then had an in-depth debate about whether or not I should put on sunscreen. Decision? No. I had put on a long sleeve shirt and we had compared our lilly-white legs, musing on the odd, but seemingly genetic condition that left us unable to tan on our legs, no matter what. Besides, we had the lean-to.

Surprising to nobody, I'm sure, my upper thighs burned to a fiery lobster-red. I spent the evening wishing for a couple ice packs. Luckily, I am easily distracted and between the fortuitous margarita happy hour special at the Mexican restaurant located in the parking lot of our motel (!) and an evening showing of Sharknado 2, I was sufficiently contented and fell into an exhausted slumber, having convinced myself the radiating heat was "comforting" and not really "excruciatingly painful." 

God bless tequila, anyways.



Day two:

Continuing my life-long record of never learning a lesson from anything, ever, I woke up early and decided to head off for a long, loping run along Lake Superior. I returned two hours later, with a sunburned back to match my legs. Alas, tequila isn't a legitimate breakfast beverage, so I couldn't medicate this one away. Sigh. 

This was a long driving day, from Ashland up to Sault St. Marie. A trip made longer by the southernly detour we had to make, in order to swim in Lake Michigan. Amazingly, the kids were adorable to each other the entire route, although that may have been the effects of lunch-time pasties (old timey meat hand pies!) and repeated stops for ice cream. 

Once we got to our hotel, we saw that AMC was airing Jaws, (which everyone is pretty much required to watch whenever it is on TV) the viewing of which elevated today to the "practically perfect" category of road trips.

"This vacation isn't nearly as awful as I thought it would be," marveled Miss Teen Wonder. 

Day three:

What benevolent God has taken us under his wing? Today was another loooooong driving day. Due to what Hubby terms a "late start" we had to hurry our little clan across Ontario to South Baymouth in order to make our ferry reservations -- or be stranded on the wrong side of Lake Huron. (In the children's and my defense, no jury would agree that 10:00 AM is late whilst on vacation. 10:00 AM is barely late in normal life.... Or at least it shouldn't be.)

Rather than beat each other to death with empty Sprite cans in a car trip grudge match, the kids took prolonged and repeated naps, waking only for chunks of Canadian candy and, what appears to be our secret weapon, ice cream. 

The ferry ride was beautiful, although attempting to drive our car up the steep upper deck ramp was terrifying enough to move both Little Man and myself to tears. Luckily, we could sooth our souls with giant bowls of poutine. (Fries, cheese curds and gravy...?!! Do the Minnesota State Fair people know about this?)

Our rented house turned out to be delightful and mere blocks from the ferry launch. Delighted, we collapsed into the living room floor and watched crappy reality television far into the night. The house was charming and we are so, so grateful to have a break from the road tomorrow.

Really. This trip is PERFECT.

Day four:

Today is the day WE PULLED THIS CAR OVER! Hubby went so far as to unbuckle his seat belt and make a move to GET OUT OF THE CAR in an effort to quell The Great Backseat Rebellion of 2014. Air conditioning vs open windows has become the major conflict of our time and subtle negotiations are on the brink of collapse. 

All we had for lunch were those aforementioned gritty peanut butter sandwiches and no beverages. We had a bag of something called "BBQ Ringalos" but as soon as we opened them, our eldest son tossed one to a nearby squirrel. Big mistake. Within minutes we were beset upon by fuzzy little scavengers, prompting us to eat the rest of our meager lunch in the car. The Lake Huron beach was too shallow and crowded to our increasingly persnickety tastes and the Bruce Peninsula National Park is home to nine - NINE - varieties of snakes, though thankfully the only one we saw was non-venomous.

It probably would have been nice to know that before I jumped into the poison ivy to get away from it.

None of this mattered, however, because of the magical Grotto and Indian Head Cove beach. The grotto is an underground pool. To access it you have to descend a rocky cliff, which can be difficult, especially if you are a slightly balance-impaired middle aged woman and a scaredy cat, to boot. 

But it is so worth it. There just aren't many opportunities to swim in clear water, underground pools in Minnesota. Or at least none that I know of. Though my medical condition (the aforementioned scaredy-cat-itis) prevented me from diving off the rocks into it's freezing cold depths, I did swim a bit and was so happy to have even stumbled upon this amazing place.

If you manage to scale the rock wall again, Indian Head Cove is just over the hill and it is BEAUTIFUL. The water is a dream, blue and pure as the Carribean, but cold. Perfect for taking a quick dip and then sunning oneself on the rocks. (Probably next to one of those many, many snakes, but it's best not to think about that.)

Tomorrow we head out with a three prong agenda: 
Swim in Lake Ontario
See Niagara Falls
Get Kirk to Buffalo in time to eat wings in his much beloved Duff's Restaurant...

But I wouldn't mind staying just one more day at the cove....even with all the snakes.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

And Away We Go!

Well, this is it, the Frauenheim Dankes are hitting the road. With an eye to our daughter's eminent departure for college, we have  planned the VERY LAST ROAD TRIP WE WILL EVER TAKE, ALL TOGETHER.

(...sniff...)

Two full weeks of togetherness; riding in the car together, eating together, staying in tiny hotel rooms together, spending every single minute together.... The hope is that this will be our final hurrah and cement a lifetime of happy memories.Yup. It will either be that or the kids will drive us to the brink of madness and make the prospect of losing one to college sound like maybe the best idea ever.

The kids are not thrilled. To them it sounds like torture. Especially since the best their Dad and I can offer is that we get to swim in all the Great Lakes! Whoopee! Super fun, right guys?

"You know, we'll driiiiiive for a while," we say cheerily," and then we'll swim, swim, SWIM!" Both of us pantomiming little doggy paddle motions and smiling from ear to ear just to demonstrate how very fun it will be. It doesn't help their mood at all when their dour expressions cause us to burst into laughter and then chant, "Swim, swim, SWIM!" ever more maniacally to each other, because, hello, disgruntled children are hilarious.

In truth, they have reason to be skeptical. Frauenheim Danke vacations are often rife with disaster. Like the year we spent Thanksgiving in a Motel 6 because our minivan broke down. Or the year we based our summer vacation around a trip to the cranberry bogs. Do you know what happens in a cranberry bog in summer? Nothing. Seriously, not a thing. I squandered precious vacation time to drag my kids to gaze at an empty field. They still totally give me shit about that.

Then there was the day in Ethiopia that we drove hours and hours in pouring rain to see these very special and beautiful lakes only to find the road we had chosen was impassable. Back we went to the beginning and back out again, on a different route. We scaled a muddy mountain trail surrounded by locals who were doing their very best to keep these dumb Americans, who clearly have the common sense of a cabbage, from slipping off the side of the trail and cracking their dumb American heads. When we got to the summit, lo and behold, the fog had rolled in, obscuring the entire valley. Our poor guide was clearly distraught, but we all burst into laughter. How to explain to him that, truly, this was more or less what we would've expected from any outing involving our family?

As a result, we're pretty darn good at forging ahead when things go wrong, which is lucky for us, since this vacation is starting out under a definite pall. Last week, my sweet, accomplished mother-in-law passed away suddenly. I think Hubby is just now getting over the shock of it. But like I said, we're good at forging ahead and so maybe this will be the vacation when we are a little subdued and remember to hug and kiss on Dad an awful lot. That'd be a good memory, right? Better than a cranberry bog in summer, anyway, but then again, most things are.